We’re Not Spinning a Yarn Here: Knitting May Boost Health and Happiness

New research suggests that working with our hands has measurable advantages for body and mind

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

That biblical proverb may have more scientific truth to it than we previously recognized.

Recent scientific research suggests that working with our hands — through knitting, washing dishes, painting, metal craft, woodworking — can provide marked physical and psychological benefits.

“I made up this term called ‘behaviorceuticals,’ instead of pharmaceuticals, in the sense that when we move and when we engage in activities, we change the neurochemistry of our brain in ways that a drug can change the neurochemistry of our brain,” said Dr. Kelly Lambert, a University of Richmond professor of behavioral neuroscience, on CBS News this week.

In her research with rats, Lambert found that rats that must work with their paws to uncover a treat fare much better than “trust-fund” rats, which are given treats freely. The animals that received rewards without working for them had elevated levels of stress hormones, for example. They were also less emotionally resilient.

Rats that worked with their paws and searched for their food treats, on the other hand, had a better sense of self-efficacy, Lambert explains in her book “The Lab Rat Chronicles.” Self-efficacy is a term psychologists use to describe a sense that one can be successful at behaviors that change one’s environment in a rewarding way.

In simpler terms — you believe you’ve got what it takes to make yourself happy.

And for those skeptical of applying animal-driven results to humans, there is ample evidence of similar phenomena in people, too. Take knitting, for example — which has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, including among young people.

Knitting can “reduce depression and anxiety, slow the onset of dementia, and distract from chronic pain,” The Independent reported last week, referencing a study of more than 15,000 knitters conducted by a group called Knit for Peace in the U.K.

Spending time daily on creative goals in particular yielded positive effects on psychological functioning.

And that’s not all. Research published in The Journal of Positive Psychology in 2016 demonstrated that spending time daily on creative goals in particular yielded positive effects on psychological functioning.

Further, when folks invested time in creative endeavors, the positive psychological impact contained to just an hour or two — the benefits spilled over to the next day.

Related: For the Love of a Vintage Typewriter

If you find yourself feeling a bit sad or antsy, consider taking up a craft or other activity you can complete with your hands.

What you create could have a much more profound impact on your health and happiness than a crocheted cap or freshly raked yard will ever show.

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer.